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Columbia River honors longtime coach John O’Rourke by naming field for him

Longtime coach, teacher left lasting impact at school

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 10, 2022, 8:05pm

Columbia River High School’s stadium has a new name in honor of a coach whose legacy continues to have a lasting impact.

The Vancouver School Board on Tuesday approved the facility’s artificial turf to be named “John O’Rourke Field at Columbia River High School” after the longtime coach and educator who spent more than four decades at the high school.

O’Rourke died in November at age 76.

O’Rourke spent 43 years at Columbia River as a social studies teacher, and coached football, wrestling and track and field. He was head football coach for 22 years — and an assistant for 16 years prior to that — until his retirement from coaching after the 2015 season. He retired as an educator in 2007 after starting his career in Vancouver Public Schools in 1968 at Lewis Junior High.

Under O’Rourke, River went 154-77, reached the postseason 16 times, and won nine league titles from 1997 to 2015. He was inducted into the Washington State Coaches Hall of Fame in 2012.

The facility, formerly named Chieftain Stadium, has been without an official name since the school board voted to retire the school’s mascot name in 2020.

Principal Alex Otoupal helped spearhead the renaming committee for the facility and said support for honoring O’Rourke has been strong from the start. He said the Columbia River community continues to seek out ways to honor and recognize contributors and pass their memories forward.

Eighty-one percent of Vancouver community members who participated in a renaming survey this spring were in favor of honoring O’Rourke. Other community suggestions were Hunter Pearson Field, Dana Blair Field and Rapids Field.

“John O’Rourke’s legacy as an educator and mentor is unmatched,” Otoupal said, “and is uniquely tied to generations of students and families at Columbia River High School.”

Rapids head football coach Brett Smedley played for O’Rourke and was a senior on the 2002 team that reached the Class 3A state semifinals. He said O’Rourke made a large impact on him, and is the main reason why Smedley is proud to lead River’s football program.

“Coach O’Rourke led a program that believed in the importance of family and he practiced what he preached in every way,” Smedley said.

Otoupal said the school will have a dedication ceremony and an official unveiling of “John O’Rourke Field at Columbia River High School” this fall.